The corpus luteum (CL) forms following ovulation from the remnant of the Graafian follicle. This transient tissue produces critical hormones to maintain pregnancy, including the steroid progesterone. In cattle and other ruminants, the presence of an embryo determines if the lifespan of the CL will be prolonged to ensure successful implantation and gestation, or if the tissue will undergo destruction in the process known as luteolysis. Infertility and subfertility in dairy and beef cattle results in substantial economic loss to producers each year. In addition, this has the potential to exacerbate climate change because more animals are needed to produce high-quality protein to feed the growing world population. Successful pregnancies require coordinated regulation of uterine and ovarian function by the developing embryo. These processes are often collectively termed "maternal recognition of pregnancy." Research into the formation, function, and destruction of the bovine CL by the Northeast Multistate Project, one of the oldest continuously funded Hatch projects by the USDA, has produced a large body of evidence increasing our knowledge of the contribution of ovarian processes to fertility in ruminants. This review presents some of the seminal research into the regulation of the ruminant CL, as well as identifying mechanisms that remain to be completely validated in the bovine CL. This review also contains a broad discussion of the roles of prostaglandins, immune cells, as well as mechanisms contributing to steroidogenesis in the ruminant CL. A triadic model of luteolysis is discussed wherein the interactions among immune cells, endothelial cells, and luteal cells dictate the ability of the ruminant CL to respond to a luteolytic stimulus, along with other novel hypotheses for future research.
- corpus luteum
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